‘Warzone 2.0’ review: Updates will decide if Al Mazrah can hold up



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The first few hours of playing “Warzone 2.0” provided two distinct moments that colored my early perceptions of the game, which released Nov. 16.

In the first, an enemy squad of four players was closing in on my teammate and me through the streets of a bombed-out town. As we huddled upstairs in one of the buildings and peeked out onto a balcony, I deployed a bomb drone and piloted it into the midst of the onrushing enemies, downing one. As they retreated behind a wall, I hurled a drill charge that affixed itself to the wall and deposited an explosive on the other side, knocking down another player. With the odds leveled, my teammate and I pushed out of our hiding spot and engaged them in a fire fight.

A few rounds later, as the last living member of my squad, I ascended the tallest building in Al Mazrah City, desperate to find cash to buy back my fallen comrades. The proximity chat burst to life as another team searched for me. I placed a mine next to the ascension cable and talked back to them, inviting them to come up and find me while I scurried around frantically, checking rooms and opening cash registers until finally, I had enough to pay for a teammate’s revival. The hunting party finally took the bait and came up the booby-trapped cable, which detonated as planned. I leaped from the top of the building, deployed my parachute and floated into the building’s lobby, landing next to a Hummer EV sitting on a pedestal. I hopped into the driver’s seat and sped away.

These examples don’t showcase any particular prowess on my part (I died literally seconds after each one), but they do highlight how players can engage with “Warzone 2.0” compared to the more helter-skelter multiplayer modes of “Modern Warfare II.” Aside from the perspiration provided by an initial landing at a crowded point of interest, or the jaw-clenching moments of the final circle, the pace of play is deliberate, allowing players to think, look around and take advantage of the battleground in clever and effective ways.

That playstyle is further indulged by the new DMZ mode, in which players accept a series of orders and then work with up to two other players to fulfill the mission goals and successfully extract via a helicopter while AI enemies and opposing teams stand against them. If players are killed inside the DMZ, they lose whatever items they brought in with them. Mistakes carry consequences.

The entirety of “Warzone 2.0′s” awe-inspiring environment made for a heckuva first impression (ours can be found at the bottom of this review). The majority of the gameplay has been gripping, though also occasionally glitchy: At various times since launch, the party chat has glitched and players couldn’t use the game’s social matchmaking feature to link up with their friends, and players have also reported they’ve lost precious items in the DMZ after encountering a developer error.

But the true test of a live-service game like “Warzone 2.0” is found in the long-term. The original “Warzone” debuted in March of 2020 to much the same level of amazement. Then, over time, the game devolved. It was overrun by cheaters. Weapon balancing became problematic after the guns from “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” were integrated. A new map that aligned with “Call of Duty: Vanguard” drove a number of players away from the big map and into the close quarters of the smaller, limited-respawn modes of Rebirth Island and Fortune’s Keep.

Some of those issues should be alleviated by Activision’s new overarching strategy of continuing “Warzone 2.0” solely around the world of “Modern Warfare,” including utilizing the same game engine for new content, thus avoiding the growing pains seen in the “Black Ops” era of “Warzone.” But how will the company’s developers respond to player feedback and complaints over the coming months? This is a particularly intriguing question when the feedback comes from high-profile streamers, upon whom games sometimes rely for marketing purposes.

A number of high-profile players have grumbled about the changes to the game’s movement mechanics, lamenting that the game plays much slower. Average players, such as myself, are just fine with those changes, since they penalize top-tier players whose fast-twitch movements provided a significant advantage during close-quarters gun fights in the old “Warzone,” where those players could still fire precisely while sliding or hopping. In “Warzone 2.0” such movement comes with a delayed ability to aim, as you’d expect in real life.

Another common gripe is the new looting system, which requires players to more carefully interact with items and ammo found around the map. Here too the game is slower, which has led to complaints that players feel too exposed as they try to sort through a vanquished player’s backpack. The counterpoint here is that, if the emphasis is on realism, such an activity should be risky. So how will the developers handle such complaints moving forward?

On the whole, “Warzone 2.0” feels like a phenomenal refresh of a game that had grown stale over the years since its debut. The addition of DMZ provides another source of entertainment that feels richer and far more enjoyable than Plunder or any of the other offshoot modes from the first “Warzone.” In completing missions, players unearth a level of lore that was missing from “Warzone,” which relied mainly on short cutscenes at the start of each new season to relay its story. Even if the game plays slower, “Warzone 2.0” just feels more alive and robust than “Warzone” ever did. Here’s hoping that feeling can be better maintained in the sequel than it was in the original.

Note: Below are the reviewer’s first impressions from the day of “Warzone 2.0′s” release, including more details on some of the game’s new mechanics.

‘Warzone 2.0’ impressions: Good riddance, Caldera. Hello, Al Mazrah.

When “Call of Duty: Warzone” debuted in March 2020, it marked the realization of what Call of Duty could finally be if it broke free from the close confines of its multiplayer maps. The map of Verdansk stretched before players as they stood at the rear door of their C-130, scanning far and wide for places to drop and explore. It felt boundless. It felt immersive. It radiated with realism in a way that Call of Duty never had before.

Over the following months, the map of Verdansk evolved, along with an in-game narrative — minimal, but enough to stitch the game’s six two-month seasons together. Then the map shifted, getting a retro look to conform with “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s” 1984 timeline. Then Verdansk was gone for good, replaced roughly 11 months ago by the World War II-era Caldera, to sync with “Call of Duty: Vanguard.” And with Caldera, for many — including this reviewer — the game felt as if it had cratered.

Even as players had clamored for new maps and updates, they lamented what had happened to the original playground of Verdansk. Some felt Caldera was merely a pale reflection, despite its lovely and lush flora, which often housed campers, and its cinematic, volcanic peak, usually crested by sweaty players picking off the sorry souls exposed in the valleys below as they rotated away from the closing gas circle. It was, in short, not great.

Now comes Al Mazrah, a new map with an entirely new, open-world DMZ mode that builds on to the base battle royale. And for as breathtaking as the vistas of the new map are, it’s the good-old feeling of Verdansk that radiates from one corner of Al Mazrah to the other. For “Warzone” players, this feels like old times again.

But there are a host of new features that players will need to rapidly grow accustomed to, including the aforementioned DMZ mode. For now, let’s focus on the battle royale and what “Warzone 2.0” brings to the table.

Note: These impressions are based off the first several hours (four rounds) following the game’s launch and will be updated.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of Caldera was its namesake. The mountainous peak at the center of the map nearly always meant that the final zones would rotate in a way that required a risky maneuver if players weren’t fortunate enough to own the high ground. It inspired a sense of dread, because, at some point, in what could be a 30-minute round, you knew you were going to need to move either up or around it, and there would be enemies lying in wait while you sprinted through what felt like kilometers of open ground (or took a vehicle and alerted everyone nearby to your presence).

Al Mazrah has no such problem. As sprawling as the map may be, there’s plenty of “stuff” that connects the interior points of interest, such that you rarely feel compelled to risk a full sprint through an open space. Even the open ground features more undulating terrain, allowing players to take some measure of cover if they come under fire while patrolling one of the more sparse parts of the map.

Inside Al Mazrah, the new map for ‘Warzone 2.0’

Beyond simply looking amazing, the large and small POIs intersect well with one another. There are waterways throughout the map, not just the coastlines, which gives players a chance to make use of the game’s new swimming mechanics and water vehicles. There is also no shortage of vehicles, in either number or type. Ground vehicles include an ATV, a sedan and a Hummer EV, with various other four-wheeled machines as well.

Four rounds is hardly enough time to confidently say whether this is Call of Duty’s best BR map yet, but it feels and plays much more like Verdansk than Caldera, and it offers a number of ways players can interact with locations that further adds to the feeling of realism. For example, if you’re looking for money, check a store’s cash register. Need a medical stim or a self-revive kit? Check out the areas where there are medical equipment boxes hanging from the walls, such as the defibrillator station in an office building.

The most unmissable new element in “Warzone 2.0” is proximity chat, which allows you to hear the voices of nearby players outside of your party … and allows them to hear you.

This is the part of the game I’m most eager to see play out in the coming weeks. There is a real element of strategy now to your communication with teammates. If players ramble on about their day at work — or crunch Doritos into their microphones — opponents can hear them and track them down, even without tools such as a UAV, a heartbeat sensor or a snapshot grenade to help locate them.

In early games, the sounds from the opposing teams’ conversations are impossible to miss. It’s as if they’ve joined your party. That also makes hearing them less useful, though: Unlike ambient noise, such as footsteps or gunshots, which emanates from the exact spot in the game from which it originated, an opponent’s voice will sound the same if they’re standing next to you or in the building across from you. I’ll be interested to see whether the developers can better regulate how opponents sound when they’re nearby rather than two buildings away on a different floor. It would help a lot, based on the early rounds.

Discord is now on Xbox for everyone, but setup takes a few steps

The next major issue with proximity chat is that you can turn it off. The game’s settings do not make it clear what that means exactly, but it probably means that those disabling the feature will not be able to hear other players outside their party, nor be heard by anyone else. If players are somehow able to talk without their comms registering on proximity chat while still hearing other players, that would be a huge advantage for players disabling the feature. There’s also the possibility that some PC and Xbox players are using a third-party client such as Discord for their voice chat, which could allow them to eavesdrop without being heard themselves. Much like the third-person mode, which I haven’t sampled yet, this might be a feature that warrants its own playlist rather than serving as a toggle bar in the game settings menu.

And, of course, there’s the question of toxicity over voice chat. Anecdotally, Activision does seem to be responding to reports of players using insensitive language or usernames in the game, sending updates to players who report another in-game if action is taken (although those updates don’t include which player the report was about, nor what action was taken, specifically). During one of my hotter drops, the proximity chat produced the usual jabs between two other teams near us, but also crossed over into a sexual nature, which could definitely be unwelcome for some players. And although those players could disable the feature, it would probably prohibit them from playing certain modes that allow players to assimilate members of other teams into their own squad using proximity chat.

After removing loadouts completely from the alpha, Infinity Ward added them back as random drops near teams as the circle closes. They are not, however, available at shops, which is the (seemingly unnecessary) new term for “buy stations.”

I understand why some top players crave their customized weapons, equipment and perks, but playing without loadouts was pretty fun. Even base-level guns felt effective, and the option to purchase just your primary weapon from a shop for $5,000 seemed like a pretty good option. In my early matches, I was able to find a decent caliber of weaponry and gadgetry simply through looting.

‘Warzone 2.0’s’ new battle pass, explained

Whether this gets further changed down the line probably hinges on how responsive Activision wants to be to streamers/influencers who want to put on a show for their audiences (and can best do that with the weapons they use most regularly). But if the developer doesn’t tweak things beyond the current system, I wouldn’t mind (as an average player with middling aim).

The single biggest negative feedback you’ll probably see about the change from “Warzone” to “2.0” is the new looting system. Weapons and items are much harder to identify on the ground compared with the old version, and with the new ability to store extra ammo, armor and gear in your backpack, just running over every type of ammo won’t automatically add it to your stash.

Instead, you can “absorb” ammo for your primary and secondary weapons just by running over it, and the same goes for cash or any lethal or tactical item, if it’s the same type you either are carrying or just used. Beyond that, players are given an option to equip items, which puts them directly onto your person in the usual slots — gun you’re holding, lethals, tacticals — and will replace any existing items in those slots. Otherwise, you can stash something in your backpack, either by hitting the interact button or holding down on the D-pad when in a looting menu, which is a great concept but a bit tricky to get used to.

It’s hard to know and remember what the heck is in your backpack. In the opening moments of a round, players usually fly around trying to find whatever loot they can. I’d often find that I had several different backpack slots holding a stack of three armor plates and spare shotgun rounds for a weapon I wasn’t using. If you get a breather, sorting and thinking through your backpack items is a worthwhile exercise, particularly in conjunction with your squad. Just be sure your opponents aren’t listening in via prox chat when you’re discussing who’s taking what.

Buy stations Shops allow players to purchase weapons through one menu and equipment through another. It’s going to take “Warzone” veterans a little getting used to, but the menu is simple enough, and the pace of play in my matches wasn’t so sweaty that interfacing with the menu felt like it would get you killed.



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